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Monday, August 13, 2012

Keeper Boxes

The Keeper Boxes
An Art Therapy Directive

Goal of Activity:
To give the client a safe place to express negative emotions or memories. Often people keep things bottled up inside of them, not trusting anyone (or themselves) to let it out. This directive gives the client a safe place to express herself and also provides an opportunity to let go of what has been bothering her.
Age Level:
All ages.
Suggested Time Allowance:
20-25 minutes for task, 15-20 minutes for processing and feedback.
          To increase client’s self-awareness.
To provide relief and decrease stress from “holding on to” painful events.
To have clients experience increased self-esteem and self-worth.
Any kind of small box (for this directive we are starting out with a small box in order to keep things to a manageable size), white construction paper, decorative paper (such as the paper used for scrap booking), ribbon, glue, scissors, and markers or pens. Your client can also decorate with paint or any other materials you can find that would work for this directive.

If you do not have access to boxes, you can also make a paper box. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D2WpFN8bGQA&feature=related 


1)       Have the client choose a box (shape and size - you can also have the client make a box out of paper Mache or other materials).

2)       Next, ask the client to decorate the outside of the box.
3)       Cut several white paper pieces down to the size of the box so they can fit inside (these will be used as the pieces where the client will draw or color out what she is feeling or any negative memories, etc.).
4)       Place personal, important experiences, emotions, or thoughts on the pieces of paper inside (you can do this in one session, but often I have found that clients will take several session to fill the box and will let you know when they are ready to make another entry). It's important to highlight to the client that although it's alright to use words, the more images and colors that are used the more of a positive impact it will have on the client.

5)       Put the decorated paper in the box for safe-keeping and place the box in a safe place.
6)       Process the experience with the client.

Processing Questions:

1)  How was it making your Keeper box?
2)  What did you place on some of the pieces of paper to go inside the box?
3)  Can you leave it behind when you put the lid on, allow that issue to stay in the box without taking it with you?
4)  What will it take to leave that memory/emotion here with me so I can keep it for you?

Pandora’s Box:  Often, clients struggle with letting go of the pain surrounding a trauma. One of the analogies that I use with the client to help her in the process of dealing with her negative emotions/memories revolves around the story of Pandora’s Box. The idea is that if we open the lid all our emotions will come out (possibly explosively) and we will be out of control. Most clients seem to recognize this fear as being one they have as well.

I then ask, “What if there were several boxes, one that represented each feeling and each experience separately?” (I have them imagine my office wall as being full of shelves and on those shelves are tons of different boxes all shapes and sizes.) I tell them, "You can take down one box at a time, open the lid to deal with that emotion or experience and then put the lid back on and the box back up on the shelf whenever you want." This gives the client a sense of control and begins to shift her paradigm.

Then, each box I have the client use in art therapy is a metaphor for control. I may ask, "How does it feel to be able to put the lid on the negatives so you can let the positives come out?" After she answers, I reiterate that she has the power to do this with her life as well.

Getting It Out:  I further explain that it's important to take the “lid off” now and then so she can work on things in a "safe place" (like art therapy). Doing this helps the emotional pressure from building too much or become too much of a burden.

Pace It:  Taking her time is also very important. She has her own "process" and it is important to respect that process (not rushing or pushing too much).

You, as the art therapist, may need to help your client in the decorating process (depending on the needs of the client). Sometimes, the client does not have the confidence to make it happen. This is where positive affirmations and encouragement can make a huge difference. Usually, the end product evokes a sense of pride and increased self-worth in what was created.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Outside/Inside Masks

Outside/Inside Masks
An Art Therapy Directive

Description:  People often do not realize that they put on masks when interacting with others. We wear masks to get through stressful times. We put on masks when we are with our children being loving and nurturing, at work being professional, and with strangers to keep them from seeing too much (to name a few). There are thousands of masks we wear, sometimes all within one day. This directive is designed to help clients begin to become aware of these masks so that they can choose what masks to wear. They will also become more aware of what is really going on behind the masks in order to learn how to deal with them in healthy ways.

Materials:  There are a multitude of ways clients can make masks. The simple way is to use regular paper and markers or colored pencils. You can also have the client make a mask out of paper Mache, or buy a mask at Hobby Lobby and have the client decorate it.


First – Explain the nature of “masks” to the client. Have the client identify some of the “masks” she wears and why.

Second – Draw an oval shape on a piece of paper, taking up the whole sheet. Put eyes, nose and mouth in a general shape on the paper, inside the oval. Put the word “Outside” at the bottom of the sheet to identify that this drawing will be the mask that the client shows to others.

Third – Ask the client to draw what comes to mind when she is showing others a (general) “mask”.

Fourth – After the client finishes the drawing for the “Outside” mask, take a second piece of paper and draw the oval, eyes, nose and mouth in the same way you drew the first mask features. At the bottom of the paper write “Inside” to identify that this drawing will be what is really going on inside the person, how she is feeling inside. Ask the client to decorate it however she would like.

Fifth – When the client is done drawing both the Outside and Inside faces, ask her to tell you about the drawings. Have a discussion about what she sees in her drawings. Write down what the client says about each image they created and color they chose. (Ask permission before you write or mark on the picture, and then I suggest you do it in pencil.) Make an arrow and then write down each meaning indicated by the client. This will enter in words (which will activate the left side of the brain) and the images (which has already activated the right side of the brain).

It will also give you a clear guide to the image later when you go over these images at the end of the time with the client, for the review of the artwork created and therapy completed.

Follow-up Questions: 

1)      Tell me about the drawings you created. How did it go?

2)     How are the drawings different? How are they the same?

3)     What do the colors mean to you?

4)     What did she see about herself in the overall process?

Objective for this Directive: 

1)     Allowing the client to have a safe space to begin to get in touch with her feelings is imperative. Each client has different ways of looking at this directive. Some will catch on quickly and be able to express how they are feeling. Others will need more guidance. It is always important to make sure to emphasize to the client that this is a “safe space” where the client can express herself and experience acceptance in the process. Also, by creating a “safe space” the client is beginning to learn who may be a “safe” person to open up to and who is not, trusting herself to know the difference.

2)     Increasing the client’s self-awareness and self-acceptance. By encouraging that the client is in a safe space the client is also receiving the message that it is OK to feel what she is feeling, and that it is acceptable. This promotes self-acceptance in general and can increase the client’s willingness to deal with negative emotions, especially when her confidence increases through the use of healthy ways to express and communicate those emotions that may be more uncomfortable.

3)     Identifying the difference between what the client communicates with others versus what she is actually feeling can stimulate conversations for healthy communication and increase the client’s sense of self-control. This exercise naturally opens conversation that highlights healthy boundaries and how they work. It is not always appropriate to share everything one is feeling with others. Conversely, it is not always healthy to keep everything inside, not sharing anything. Finding that balance is key to being mentally healthy. It is important for the client to learn when it is appropriate to share and when it is not.

NOTE:  This mask directive can be applied to any masks you want to create with your client. Have fun with it and allow the client to explore the metaphors in masks. You can add sequence, feathers, beads, and anything else the client would like to utilize. You can pick up basic white masks at Hobby Lobby, which make great canvases to make some amazing masks. There are a myriad of ways to create masks. Explore and have fun with it!